Capitolwire: Keller, Yudichak first House Ds to call for DeWeese ouster, say it's inevitable.

Two Democratic House members made public on Wednesday the DeWeese resignation pleas they and Rep. Dan Frankel gave at the House Democratic retreat on Jan. 9. On Wednesday, Rep. Bill Keller, D-Philadelphia, said: 'I believe he [DeWeese] will either step down or we will have to have a reorganization, and I believe that has to happen before the election, way before the election.' By Peter L. DeCoursey Bureau Chief Capitolwire HARRISBURG (July 16) – Reps. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, and Bill Keller, D-Philadelphia, today became the first state House Democrats to publicly call for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, to resign or be ousted as a caucus leader, during interviews with Capitolwire. Both said they and Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, first privately called for DeWeese to quit as leader, at a Jan. 9 House Democratic retreat, in front of their colleagues and leaders. Keller said he confronted DeWeese and, Yudichak and other lawmakers confirmed, Keller said: “Something’s wrong and you were Leader. I said people are being talked to now, our staffers you fired, they will become state’s witnesses and testify against you. I told DeWeese: 'Somewhere along the road, you will be charged with theft of services and you need to step down now, before you bring all of us down with you.' "He said no, no, no, he didn’t do anything wrong and would not be charged.” After DeWeese told them during that retreat six months ago that the Bonusgate problem was “partisan” and “I did nothing wrong,” Keller said, the three House Democrats waited for others to step up. Instead, Keller said: “You could hear a pin drop.” But that was the day, several House Democratic lawmakers say, that DeWeese started telling his caucus members: “In the words of our friend Mike Manzo,” months after Manzo resigned and DeWeese fired others, “when I become a distraction, I will step aside." Frankel wrote in an e-mail: “This is generally accurate. I do not like to discuss what is spoken about in our caucus or in our retreat. I think members need to feel that in this informal environment opinions and ideas can be aired with some degree of confidence that their comments are not made public. “That being said there is a great deal of concern expressed by members to me and others who are not satisfied with the status quo. I certainly anticipate further discussion.”

DeWeese’s office declined to reply directly, but he told the Associated Press Wednesday that he expected to remain as Democratic leader. The Associated Press quoted DeWeese as saying charges filed by Attorney General Tom Corbett and a grand jury "report vindicates me and I really believe that our leadership team for the last 17 months has handled this terrible crisis in the best way conceivable." While Keller, Yudichak and Frankel say DeWeese convinced members that was true six months ago, they believe their colleagues have run out of patience with DeWeese. Especially after last week’s charges were filed. The Bonusgate presentment alleges House Democrats paid taxpayer-financed bonuses to staffers for campaign work and used millions of dollars of official work hours for campaigns. Yudichak and Keller say now that former House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver, has been charged with counts of theft and conspiracy, along with Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver, and 10 top former or suspended House Democratic staffers, they have been proven right. Almost a year after Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham became the first prominent elected Democrat to call for DeWeese to leave his leadership office, Yudichak and Keller joined him. They say their DeWeese ouster effort now has undeniable momentum. Tom Andrews, DeWeese's spokesman, gave Capitolwire – see below – a list of 29 DeWeese supporters, of whom only five responded on the record, and they did so with varying levels of support for DeWeese. Two of the 29 did respond with public, clear support for DeWeese. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Westmoreland, said DeWeese had been a “major reformer the last 18 months when I have been here, on my open records bill and on making everything more open and transparent and that is good. … If he gets indicted, I would reconsider the leadership question, but unless he is indicted, I have seen nothing [in the grand jury report] to change my mind.” Rep. Mike McGeehan, D-Philadelphia, one of the 29 House Democrats Andrews cited as a supporter, spoke to Capitolwire Wednesday morning before Keller and Yudichak made their statements, or Andrews listed him as a DeWeese supporter. Asked if DeWeese should step down as caucus leader, McGeehan said: “I am not going to comment on that. I have my own race and this stuff is really not a factor in my race or in any of the elections in Philadelphia. I don’t think there’s a splatter effect on my race, but in other districts? I don’t know. Any story that gets this much negative coverage is going to have an effect. A daily drumbeat of negative stories and editorials about our leaders and grand jury presentments has to have a negative effect. How big? We’ll see. “For me, it’s wait and see. I don’t have the long knives out for my leadership.”

Asked about the statements of Keller and Yudichak later in the day, after they were made, McGeehan said: “This is not the time for a civil war among Democrats, in my view. … With gas and milk at $4 a gallon, we should be attacking Republicans, so we can help working people by keeping the majority and adding more House Democrats. They have a right to their opinions, but I think we should be criticizing Republicans, not Democrats.” But at least one meeting of 10 or more House Democrats is scheduled for later this week to discuss DeWeese ouster strategies, Democrats reported. It is not clear, they said, if the caucus can reorganize until they are back in session, and whether they can summon the House back into session just to reorganize is being explored, sources close to House leaders said. "DeWeese is going to go," said one of the organizers of that effort. "The question is the technicalities and when we can make it happen." One veteran House Democrat, whom Andrews listed as a DeWeese supporter on his list of 29, refused to comment publicly. But on condition of anonymity, referring to DeWeese's promise to resign, as Manzo did, "if I become a distraction," the source said: “He is more than a distraction. He is killing us. He’s got to go.” Another House veteran who has worked with DeWeese on amicable but not close terms said: “I hate to say it, because our results are good in the House, legislatively, and he has done a lot of reform, but he is way more than a distraction now, he’s a disease and we may lose the majority if he goes. We will lose it if he stays.” Yudichak concedes he and Keller are viewed as long-time DeWeese critics, but noted that Frankel was not, until this became a threat to the caucus and its public perception. Yudichak and Keller say now this is beyond caucus divisions and dissension. Speaking of the Jan. 9 caucus, Keller said: “I believed then and I believe now, for the good of the caucus, Bill DeWeese has to step down from leadership. I didn’t have the support then, but I believe I have it now. I don’t think Bill DeWeese can withstand the pressure for him to resign that there is now in the caucus. “I believe every day there’s less and less support for him to hold that title. Normal people would take their medicine and understand it was him to do what’s best for everybody, including him. “I don’t know if Bill DeWeese is capable of that, but one way or another, I believe he will either step down or we will have to have a reorganization, and I believe that has to happen before the election, way before the election.” Yudichak echoed Keller, saying of DeWeese: “If he does not do the right thing, and step aside, then we come back in the fall, there will be an effort to reorganize. Keller and Frankel and I made our piece known several months ago. Now it is clear there is no other course than to call for reorganization if he will not do the right thing."

Asked why their Jan. 9 statements did not receive support from their colleagues sitting there, Yudichak said: “I think Bill DeWeese and others, the DeWeese-Veon team, did a good job of persuading the younger members that this was not serious; DeWeese used the phrase that 'this is all in the rearview mirror.' Keller and I still talk about it, we’re amazed by the depth of denial in that statement.” Yudichak also noted that he and Keller were known to be hostile to DeWeese, “since we were not part of the Veon-DeWeese fraternity.” Keller has been closely allied in the House with former state Rep. and current Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz, DeWeese’s ardent critic and foe who several times tried to unseat DeWeese and his team from House Democratic leadership. But Keller said: “This is not personal. It never was. I want the House Democratic Caucus to do the kind of great work it can, for all the people, if DeWeese leaves." Yudichak said that given the perception of himself and Keller, “That is why Dan planted such an important seed, since he is not usually a guy to go against the caucus like that. Dan made a big impression on people, because they knew he was only trying to help us keep the majority.” Andrews did not respond, instead writing in an e-mail: “Try to get in touch with some of these D members to ask about their support for DeWeese …” E-mails were sent to the 29 House Democrats listed by Andrews and follow-up phone calls were then placed to them, asking for comment. The list of Democratic House members Andrews asked Capitolwire to call to hear about support for DeWeese included: House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, Philadelphia; Reps. Bob Belfanti, Northumberland; Vince Biancucci, Beaver; Joe Brennan, Northumberland; James Casorio; Westmoreland; Scott Conklin, Centre; Larry Curry, Montgomery; Pete Daley, Washington; Florindo Fabrizio, Erie; John Galloway, Bucks; Neal Goodman, Schuylkill; Patrick Harkins, Erie; Babette Josephs, Philadelphia; Thaddeus Kirkland, Delaware; Deb Kula, Fayette; Tim Mahony, Fayette; Mike McGeehan, Philadelphia; John Myers, Philadelphia; Mike O'Brien, Philadelphia; Eddie Day Pashinski, Luzerne; Thomas Petrone, Allegheny; James Roebuck, Philadelphia; Christopher Sainato, Beaver; Dante Santoni, Berks; Frank Shimkus, Lackawanna; Ken Smith, Lackawanna; Tim Solobay, Washington; Ronald Waters, Philadelphia; and Jake Wheatley, Allegheny. In addition to McGeehan and Mahoney, Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, appearing at a press conference where lawmakers called for a special legislative session on ethics, said: "We are going to see a real test of leadership this fall. When it comes to that, things will certainly shake out after the election. But this fall will be a real test of leadership for the whole caucus. And this should not be about just one person ... whether it be the governor or Sam Smith or Bill DeWeese or leadership. But there are 203 elected House members, there are 50 elected senators, and an elected governor. The responsibility's on all of us and not just one person."

House State Government Committee Chairwoman Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, said of Yudichak, Keller and others who are privately calling for DeWeese to resign or be ousted: "I think they have a kind of different perspective than perhaps some of the other folks you talk to. I am very encouraged by what the Democratic Caucus, along with the governor, has been doing in terms of excellent public policy and serving the people of Pennsylvania." When pressed on whether DeWeese would face a reorganization attempt this fall, if he didn't resign, Josephs said: "I think that if we continue to deliver this agenda to the people, we will continue to do that when we come back in September. ... "If we keep moving forward, that's what the Democratic Caucus is proud of, that's what the governor is proud of and, to me, that's what's important. … "I don't know the answer to whether this person or that person should be in office or resigning or in leadership, all I know is we have had a very successful two years and have had an extraordinary two years with two-thirds of government being controlled by Democrats." When asked if she agreed with Keller's and Yudichak's assessment that DeWeese would face a reorganization effort, Josephs said: "I don't know whether they're accurate or not because I'm not feeling the same pressures as they are. What I'm feeling from people in my district is to keep on moving on these issues that are so important to people," like health care. "I don't do inside baseball stuff in politics." When asked whether she continued to support DeWeese, Josephs said: "I'm in support of him as long as he is addressing the needs of the people. And that's what I've seen in terms of our agenda." Rep. Tony Payton, D-Philadelphia, said: "I take this very seriously, because I take the integrity of government seriously, and I'll reserve judgment until I get a chance to take a look at it over the summer and find out more information." Biancucci, who did not return an earlier call from Capitolwire, before Andrews singled him out as among 29 DeWeese supporters in the 102-member caucus, was out for the day, a staffer said when he was called again Wednesday afternoon. Aides to Kirkland and Goodman, also named as supporters, said the lawmakers were unavailable this week. A spokeswoman for Evans declined comment until she could confer with Evans about it. None of the other DeWeese supporters named by Andrews returned calls and e-mails requesting comment as of presstime. JAN. 9, THE FIRST CALLS FOR RESIGNATIONS. After the House Democratic retreat was held, DeWeese claimed total support from his caucus and most Democrats backed that idea, except for Frankel, who publicly said opinion widely diverged. Moments after he personally called for DeWeese to resign, according to Keller,

Yudichak and four other House members, Frankel then said he would not comment on what was said, or on reports that the Allegheny County House Democratic Caucus, which Frankel leads, was the center of the “DeWeese must resign” claque in the caucus. Keller told the story from his perspective: “At that retreat we had, I stood up and told him it was time to resign. Then John Yudichak stood up and said the same thing, and Dan Frankel. That’s the three who stood up, told him to resign and tried to hammer it home. We were at that retreat, and the governor came in, we talked about issues, we had lunch, it got near the end of the day, and I thought this was going to get talked about, and it didn’t happen. “So at the end of the day, the leaders were all sitting up there and I raised my hand. "I said, ‘Look, bill, I know people are going to say this is not the right time for this, and they think I shouldn’t be saying this, but you just went on a tour of editorial boards around the state saying you had the full support of your caucus. “'And that isn’t true. And we all know that isn’t true. And since you apparently won’t do the right thing for you and the caucus, I am asking you to resign, because it is in the best interest of the majority caucus, that can do some great things if you do. So I am asking you to step down.'” DeWeese, through Andrews, declined to respond. Keller said: “Bill [DeWeese] said: ‘No, no, no, I didn’t do anything wrong and I will not be charged and it wont be a problem for the caucus politically or in passing legislation.’ I responded: 'Something’s wrong and you were leader.' I said people are being talked to now, our staffers you fired, they will become state’s witnesses and testify against you. I told DeWeese: ‘Somewhere along the road, you will be charged with theft of services and you need to step down now, before you bring all of us down with you.’ “… I said at a minimum, you can no longer go to editorial boards and claim the support of the whole caucus, because that is not true. Then I said you should step down, and then after Yudichak and Frankel said the same thing, Yudichak more flowerly and legal, and Frankel concentrated on how hard we worked and the impact this would have on keeping the majority, so Bill should step down. “Then, no one else stood up. It was at the end of the day, but there was still a good portion of the caucus there, and after the three of us spoke, you could hear a pin drop.” Yudichak confirmed Keller’s account, as did four House Democrats who would discuss the meeting only on condition of anonymity. Yudichak said: “Yes, I remember it well, we had the retreat, the majority of members felt it was a private retreat to discuss the bonus investigation, and it turned out not to be much more than the usual dog and pony show. So with a few minutes left at the end of the day, the leaders took questions. Rep. Keller was the first to stand up and lay out his argument. Both for Bill and I, the

breaking point was” their discomfort with DeWeese’s style of leadership they felt had culminated in Bonusgate. “What I witnessed from early on was that this culture in the House Democratic Caucus gave you a simple choice: be a part of Bill and Mike’s fraternity or you are going to get punished. All the power and decisions revolved around the lifestyles and needs of two men, Bill [DeWeese] and Mike [Veon]. Guys were punished, Mayernik, Ralph Kaiser, Tom Tigue, through redistricting, being taken out of their seats for not being in the Bill and Mike fraternity. “I have no idea what Bill DeWeese knew or when he knew it, I hope that on a personal level he has the ability to get beyond this. But in terms of running the government, he has to step down, he cannot keep using the caucus as his shield against this storm.” After Corbett filed charges, Yudichak said: ‘The Democratic caucus has to move forward. We should not be tied up because someone refused to lead and now refuses to leave. There is no way DeWeese could survive this as leader." When Deweese did his editorial board tour, Yudichak said: “He said at my paper, that he was 'asleep at the switch.' If you publicly admit that, then you have no business being a leader at the statehouse.” Andrews did not respond to either Keller or Yudichak’s accounts of the retreat and confrontation, more than three hours after Keller’s account and comments were e-mailed to him. Capitolwire Staff Reporter Christopher Lilienthal and Intern Kari L. Andren contributed to this story.

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